Ahhh, shoot-em-ups. So many classics, so little re-releases. Thankfully, one of the best was recently released for XBLA, and now everyone can enjoy Ikaruga. Built as a minimalist shooter, this game is quite possibly one of the most efficiently designed games of the genre. What Ikaruga does differently from all the rest, besides stripping away all of the fluff, is use a “duality” theme to create a game where you have two different polarities of your ship, each one representing either dark or light. Light does more damage to dark enemies; vice versa. Sounds simple, right?
Not quite. With each side also comes invulnerability to your active color’s attacks, but you lose that extra damage to those same colored enemies. For example, if I use the light polarity against a dark enemy, I’m going to kill it faster than using the light polarity, but I am vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. However, if I am the same color, I can kill the enemy slightly slower, and be invulnerable to any attacks. In fact, you “absorb” these same colored attacks that go into a meter, which allows you to use various leveled attacks that can shoot a couple of powerful lasers across the screen. So while you’re playing this game, trying to kill stuff and clear the level, you have to dodge all kinds of attacks and switch polarities at the same time, making sure you aren’t hit by an attack. The learning curve is incredibly steep, so for those who don’t play these sort of games regularly, you might wanna start on easy.
Another aspect that is different from other standard shoot-em-ups is the fact that you can clear the game entirely without firing your gun at all, and just by absorbing the different attacks for points you can go through all five chapters (any stage bosses will leave the screen after a set time). This play-style is called Dot Eater. So if you want to really challenge yourself, this method of play is recommended if you get bored of beating the game the same way every time. Then, when you factor in 2P mode, which now has online ability thanks to Xbox Live, you have an even more hectic game. With two players, you can work together and have one person in front shield and absorb enemy attacks while the player behind shoots as the opposite polarity, thus doing a great deal of damage. Online play is smooth and allows for different settings, such as chapter select and difficulty.
Included in this iteration is the TATE mode from the original release, which allows you to flip your TV on its side and play the game in its native arcade screen size (but check that make sure your TV supports it!). Another new addition to this port is the ability to save your replays, which is great for anyone trying to show off their runs. And the of course the obligatory leaderboards are included as well. I’m glad to see this is an incredibly faithful reproduction of the original game, with new additions that will help fans continue the game for years to come.
You can get Ikaruga for 800 space bucks (that’s MS points), which is quite a reasonable price. It’s frustrating but satisfying at the same time, and I can’t think of any other game that represents the genre so well.